Getting to 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton

spray-painted

Les.Roger.backporch
Les and Roger Green, back porch of 5 Gaines St, 2nd floor, 1953

One of the facts I’d previously established is that Agatha Walker married McKinley Green in April 1931. But by 1936, they were living apart in Binghamton.

In the 1940 Census, they were still separated, with Mac at 98 Lewis and Agatha and her son Les at her parents’ house at 339 Court Street. My father’s last name had changed from Walker to Green, misspelled Greene in the Census.

By the 1941 City Directory, though, the three of them were all together at 10 Tudor. Not incidentally, that address doesn’t exist anymore, demolished to facilitate a bypass off of Riverside Drive.

The single useful thing found from a visit to the Broome County Clerk’s office was a record of the Order of Adoption of Leslie H. Walker, inf, [presumably infant, though he was 13 days shy of his 18th birthday] by Mr. McKinley Green. I knew this had happened, but seeing it in Book 22 of Civil Actions and Special Proceedings, page 572, was kind of cool.

Les was in the military in 1945 and 1946. I know from anecdotal information that he had a variety of jobs, including delivering flowers, before and after his service.

McKinley was a porter at Wehle Electric, but usually, he was a laborer. In 1947, he started at WNBF radio and Tv, as a laborer, and by 1956, as a janitor. He stayed there until he died in 1980.

No perceived miscegenation

My parents were married on March 12, 1950. They looked for a place to live in town but were thwarted. Potential landlords thought my mother, who is very fair, was white and that they were an interracial couple.

They subsequently moved to 5 Gaines Street, on the top floor of the two-family dwelling. It was owned by my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Williams, and presumably, her siblings, though she outlived them all. She and her sister Deanna (d. 1966) lived about six short blocks away.

Back in the 1890s, the resident was someone whose last name was Archie, which was a variant of the family name Archer, so it had been in the family for a long time.

Gaines Street is a single short block, notable growing up because the Canny’s trucks would go from Spring Forest Avenue, take a right down Oak Street, a left across Gaines, and another left onto Front Street and head out of town to NYC, Syracuse, Albany, Scranton, or wherever.

The directory says Les worked as a chauffeur at Niagara Motor Express, or elsewhere through 1957.

Meanwhile, by 1954, Mac and Agatha had moved upstairs at 5 Gaines, with my parents moving downstairs. This was likely predicated by the fact that my mother had her second child, Leslie that year.

New job

In the 1958 volume, Dad is an employee of the Interracial Association at 45 Carroll, not all that far from where he grew up. He’s listed as the assistant director the following year. The organization morphed into the Broome County Urban League in 1968.

I know Les was doing lots of other things in this period: arranging flowers at Costas, painting, and singing. By 1964, he was at IBM, a job he hated. So when my homeroom teacher, Mr. Joseph, told me my father was crazy for leaving IBM in 1967 for an OEO program called Opportunities for Broome, I shrugged.

When I’ve visited 5 Gaines Street in the past, I’d noticed that the hunter-green asbestos siding was now brown. What I didn’t notice is that the brown was sprayed on. And not particularly well on the side of the house, because the green is still partially showing on the side.

This was one of the first stops on the Roger Green magical history tour that I went on recently.

The research trip: Les Green, Agatha Walker, Raymond Cone

Family Court privacy

Les Green.montage
Les Green (X3); the woman in the lower right is Agatha

Back in February 2020, I had planned a research trip to the Broome County Clerk’s office to look at a particular law case. But the March sojourn was postponed for some reason.

The story of the trial appeared in the Binghamton Press, starting on 27 Oct, p. 5. “Negro minister to go on trial.” “The Reverend Raymond Cone, negro minister, charged with being the father of a child born out of wedlock of Miss Agatha Walker, 25 years old*, of 14 East street, a teacher in this Sunday school**, will go on trial in Children’s Court tomorrow before County Judge Benjamin Baker.”

In late September, my friend Cee and I went to the clerk’s office, and I was assured that the information I sought would NOT be there. This is contrary to what I was told 19 months earlier on the phone. In any case, we could not find it. We were directed to the Family Court office.

The person I talked with said that the boss was away, but that I could provide a narrative. So I wrote a request for the trial transcript. I was told back at the county clerk that I might well be denied because Family Court records are sealed for reasons of privacy.

Thank God it was Thursday

But we were given a glimmer of hope by a lawyer who gives advice once a week in the county courthouse. He pointed to  22 NYCRR 205.5, Privacy of Family Court records.

Frankly, I’m not seeing it in the text, but he had researched a similar case in June 2021. He explained that my request could be denied because Family Court records are sealed. But I could appeal to a state appellate judge. I might note, for instance:

1. All of the parties – Raymond Cone, Agatha Walker Green, and the child, my father, Les Green, are all deceased.
2. I am directly related to the participants.
3. Many of the details, including the conclusion by Judge Baker in January 1927 that Rev. Cone was acquitted, was widely known because it was published in the Binghamton newspapers.

* She was actually 24, and 23 when the event occurred on January 6, 1926
** I understand she headed the Sunday school

Things I’ll never know about dad

a mission

agathales
Les (center), Agatha (right), and presumably other Walkers

My sisters and I long knew the biological father of my dad, Les Green, was someone other than my grandfather, McKinley Green. But what we’ll never know:  was he aware of the name of his biological father, Rev. Raymond Cornelius Cone? Did he have any dealings with him whatsoever? I tend to doubt it, but…

And how did he feel about being treated as “illegitimate”? When did he find out? Did he know about the newspaper coverage? My maternal grandmother remembered the stories. Did this affect the way she saw Les Green? They were not fans of each other, which left my mother in the middle of that mess.

One of my sisters suggested that we ask dad about this while he was alive. I was highly resistant in no small part because whatever information that we did know came not from him but from his wife and mother-in-law. I surmised that it was not something he wanted to discuss. I could have been wrong, I suppose.

His maternal grandparents claimed him as their son in the 1930 Census, though the truth had come out in the subsequent decade. As mentioned before, Cone had denied paternity. This was, of course, far before the days of DNA testing that would have proved the minister was a lying son of a…

Did dad know that his mother Agatha, the day after he was born, had taken legal action against RCC? After reading the newspaper clippings from September 1926 through January 1927 in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, I’m still unclear precisely what Cone was being charged with. I THINK it was the failure to own up to the paternity, as opposed to assault or rape.

Mission back on

In March 2020, I had planned to go to Broome County Clerk’s office in Binghamton. Reportedly, there are printed volumes with the transcripts of trials of that vintage. But that trip was scuttled because of the COVID outbreak, with that office closed.

It has now reopened. I need to make a pilgrimage to my hometown to copy the record of grandma Agatha’s fierceness. Did dad believe that despite the verdict exonerating Cone, that his mom was telling the truth?

I’ve been working on my time-travel machine. One needs to line up the questions because one doesn’t know how long one can survive sojourning in the past.

Dad died on August 10, 2000.

 

Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church, Binghamton

telethons

cropped-Roger.singing.TrinityAMEZ.BNG_.jpg
O Come, All Ye Faithful. December 1959

For my request to  Ask Roger Anything, Carla, my friend from the high school choir asks:

Write more about your early memories of your church and school and your family!! I love those stories.

My, that’s tough. There are SO many tales. OK. I was baptized at my church, Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in downtown Binghamton, NY in August 1953. No, I don’t remember this.

But my church moved when I was a kid to the corner of Oak and Lydia Streets. I took a search on Newspapers.com. “Bishop Walls…senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, will rededicate the former Plymouth Methodist Church as the new church edifice of Trinity.” This was in a story in the 8 June 1957 edition of the Binghamton Press. I vaguely remember him. 

It’s fascinating the detail given not just in this story, but all of the religious goings-on in the area. “The present Trinity Church at 35 Sherman Place recently was purchased by St. Mary’s Assumption Church as part of a site as a planned recreational center.”

Ultimately, Columbus Park was built on that site, right across the street from the Interracial Center at 45 Carroll St, where my father Les would often volunteer. Not incidentally, the park has been informally renamed for Assata Shakur.

One-tenth of a mile

The new church location was two really short blocks from our house at 5 Gaines Street. And we’d cut through the parking lot at Gaines and Oak, making the trip even faster. So we really were at church all of the time. I participated in the children’s choir, directed by Fred Goodall, who seemed to be there forever.

WNBF-TV, Channel 12 (now WBNG) used to have telethons. It was either the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on Labor Day weekend or the March of Dimes or maybe both. In any case, our choir appeared on the station more than once. In fact, between those appearances and being on the kids’ shows, I was on local TV at least a half dozen times.

My paternal grandmother Agatha – emphasis on the second syllable, not the first – was my Sunday school teacher. She and her husband McKinley also lived upstairs from us at 5 Gaines Street. So I saw her a lot, often playing canasta at her kitchen table, until she died in May 1964. She was the first person I knew and loved who passed away.

My father Les would run off the bulletin on that mimeograph machine. I can still recollect in my mind’s nostrils that specific smell. Besides singing in the senior choir, dad also began directing the youth choir he dubbed the MAZET singers, based on the initials of the church, It included the organist’s younger daughter Lauren, my cousin Debra, my sister Leslie, and me. I recollect that we were pretty good.

OK, Carla, maybe I’ll try this again sometime.

Pinochle with my mom and dad

a hundred aces

PinochlePinochle is “a card game for two or more players using a 48-card deck consisting of two of each card from nine to ace, the object being to score points for various combinations and to win tricks.” Within the game, it was also specifically “the combination of the queen of spades and jack of diamonds.” It’s pronounced PEA-knuckle.

I’ve participated in lots of card games in IRL: canasta, bid whist, hearts, spades, casino, gin rummy, 500 rummy. Yet the only game I have on my phone is pinochle. I’ll play it just before going to bed, or maybe as a diversion from the frustration of the day.

As I figured out, it’s because it is a thing that I played with just my mom and dad. This went on from when I was about 10 until I departed I went to college. And the double-deck version, which is my preferred iteration to play, is a game I’ve only ever played with my parents. It didn’t involve my sisters, just the three of us.

Cut-throat double-deck pinochle involved holding 26 cards in your hand. The nines are removed from the deck, and the person winning the first trick got the two-card kitty.

Jack of diamonds, queen of spades

So I think it is the case that pinochle is a reflection of my parents. One can have a lot of points (meld) to bid. For instance, a pinochle is worth four points, but a double pinochle is worth 30. A triple pinochle is 60, and a quadruples is 90. A double set of jacks are worth 40, a double set of queens 60, and a double set of kings 80.

But then you have to take enough points via tricks to actually save the meld, or you forfeit it. A hand with multiple pinochle or two sets of face cards don’t have a lot of power. For that, you want several aces and/or length in a trump suit, preferably both. My dad was the flashy high-meld hand, while mom was the one who always tried to make sure that high-bid hands weren’t for naught.

This is, I recognize, an imperfect analogy. One can have hands with lots of points and power (double sets of aces are 100 points, double runs of JQK10A are 150). But my parents seldom had an easy time of it. So when I fritter away my time on pinochle, I’ll think of mom and dad, who had gotten married 71 years ago today.